Controlled Substance Laws in Georgia 2023

Controlled Substance Laws in Georgia 2023

What is Considered a Controlled Substance in Georgia?

Georgia drug laws are largely based on the federal Drug Schedule maintained by the Drug Enforcement Agency. This Schedule provides a definition and classification of controlled substances. Generally speaking, if a drug or narcotic requires a prescription and has a high potential for abuse, it is a controlled substance. The Drug Schedule in Georgia also addresses illegal substances such as cocaine, meth, synthetic marijuana, heroin, fentanyl, LSD, and other illegal drugs.

Federal Drug Schedule

In 1970, the federal government passed the Controlled Substances Act. This Act created a table which organized narcotic substances into five specific categories.

Substances cited on the Schedule are categorized based on the potential for abuse and any legal medicinal use. Per the DEA website, the Drug Schedule is as follows:1

  • Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes. Examples are: marijuana, LSD, ecstacy, heroin.
  • Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Examples are: meth, cocaine, fentanyl, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Adderall.
  • Schedule III drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs abuse potential is less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but more than Schedule IV. Examples are: Ketamine, testosterone, Anabolic steroids.
  • Schedule IV drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Examples are: Valium, Xanax, Ambien, Ativan.
  • Schedule V drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes. Examples are cough suppressants such as Robitussin, Lomotil, Gabapentin, Motofen, Parepectolin, Lyrica.

Controlled Substance Charges and Penalties

Georgia drug laws are structured to address various types of charges related to controlled substances and illegal drugs. There are separate laws for possession, intent to distribute or sell, felony drug trafficking, manufacturing, cultivation, prescription fraud, drug paraphernalia, prescription drugs not in origial container, and more.

Most drug charges in Georgia are felony crimes resulting in prison sentences and fines. Minor offenses, such as possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, are a misdemeanor crime. Conviction of misdemeanor drug charges results in fines and incarceration not more than 12 months. For first-time offenders, your defense lawyer may be able to affect getting reduced penalties.

Depending on the circumstances of an arrest, the accused may face additional charges such as child endangerment, obstruction, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, and destruction of evidence.

State vs. Federal Charges

When does a drug crimes arrest go froma state charge to a federal charge? Per the JustCriminalLaw.com website, “The most common federal drug crime is trafficking, especially across state borders, while the most common drug crime at the state level is for possession. A person can be charged with distribution, trafficking, manufacturing, or cultivating drugs or controlled substances under either federal or state law. Whether a person is charged under state or federal law will usually depend on the amount of the controlled substance in question….The easiest way to find yourself facing federal drug charges is to be arrested by a federal officer. This could be the result of something like smoking marijuana on national land, such as a national park, to being picked up by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).”2

When It Becomes a Federal Crime

Depending upon the circumstances, a drug crimes arrest could evolve into a federal investigation and charges. In August of 2022, federal agents arrested 22 people alleged to have been operating a drug trafficking ring. Because federal agents often seek to maximize the pain<.em> they may pile on as many charges as possible.

Per the Department of Justice website and news release, one of the people arrested was charged as follows: “Cornelius Leonard aka Tae, 28, of Grantville, Georgia, is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; three counts of distribution of methamphetamine; two counts of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person; possession of a stolen firearm; possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute; possession of heroin with the intent to distribute; possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute; possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; and, conspiracy to tamper with a witness. If convicted, Leonard faces a maximum of life imprisonment and a maximum $8,000,000 fine.”3

Federal Drug Penalties

Federal drug penalties are far more harsh than State penalties. In some ways, how the charges are classified and managed are far more complicated. If convicted, a person will serve their time in a federal correctional facility.

Drug Charges for Controlled Substances

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking offenses bring very serious felony charges which may be prosecuted as a State and/or Federal crime. The primary factor for a drug trafficking charge is the amount of drugs involved. Being caught transporting drugs across state lines can complicate adrug trafficking defense.

Drug trafficking punishments include fines and may have minimum mandatory sentences for anywhere from 5-25 years in prison.

Drug Distribution and Selling Drugs

Drug distribution involves acts of selling, transporting, importing, exporting and delivery of illegal drugs or unlawful controlled substances. Distribution ranges from street-level drug sales to nationwide or global movement of illegal substances.

If a person is caught with a 1/2 ounce of marijuana they will probably be charged with misdemeanor possession. Being in possession of drugs packaged for sales or amounts considered to be greater then for personal use can bring distribution charges. For example, being in possession of 1/2 ounce of marijuana that is packaged in dime bags clearly indicates an intent to distribute.

Manufacturing and Cultivation

Per Georgia 16-13-30, manufacturing and cultivation offenses are felony crimes. Specifically, it is a felony offense to grow marijuana, manufacture meth, LSD, or any type of controlled or illegal substance.

A conviction will result in stiff fines and 5-35 years in prison. Repeat offenders are subject to the most severe sentences allowed by law.

Possession of Controlled Substance (PCS)

In Georgia, the possession of a controlled substance can bring misdemeanor or felony charges depending on what type of substance was discovered by the police. Possession of a substance on the Drug Schedule is a felony crime with penalties including fines and up to 10 years in prison.

In Georgia, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 and not more than 12 months in jail. Marijuana possession over one ounce is a felony with penalties of a fine up to $5,000 and 1-10 years in prison.

Drugs not in original container is a common type of possession charge. People charged with this offense often had no idea they were breaking any laws. If you have a prescription, you must keep all pills in the original container with your name on it. If you have even one pill, of your own prescription, in your pocket and outside of the conatiner . . . you’re guilty. If you are in possession of a prescription container that is not in your name it could be cause for this charge. While a lawyer can probably get these situations dismissed, it’s still going to cost money to resolve.

Drug Prescription Fraud

Prescription fraud is a common way that people illegally come to have possession of controlled substances. Prescription fraud itself is a felony crime. Obtaining and having possession of fraudulently obtained prescription drugs compounds the legal problems.


Have you have been arrested or charged with a controlled substance offense? We encourage you to call us at 770-956-1400 to arrange a meeting with an experienced drug crimes lawyer.

CREDITS and FOOTNOTES

  • 1 DEA Writer, “Drug Scheduling”, April 4, 2021, Available from DEA website
  • 2 Staff Writer, “DIFFERENCES BETWEEN STATE AND FEDERAL DRUG CRIMES”, May 3, 2018, Available from JustCriminalLaw.com
  • 3 DoJ Public Relations, “22 Defendants Charged in 22-Count Indictment Alleging Middle Georgia Drug Trafficking Ring”, August 8, 2022, Available from DoJ website
  • Photo by StevePB, available at Pixabay
2 Comments
    • Larry Comatello
    • November 5, 2022
    • Reply

    There should not be any laws for arresting people who are minding their own business. How is taking a muscle relaxer bad when drinking a lot of alcohol is okay?

    • Viktor C
    • November 10, 2022
    • Reply

    How do people first move to USA know about the laws and not be arrested?

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